Alan Sanford, whose Naval crew fired the first American shot of World War II, was interred Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
At 6:37 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, Seaman First Class Sanford, an 18-year-old gunner from St. Paul, Minn., was aboard the USS Ward, which was guarding the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Just over an hour before the Japanese aerial attack began, crewmen on the destroyer spotted a Japanese mini-submarine trying to sneak into port on the trail of another U.S. ship.
“We thought it might have been a toy or who knows,” Mr. Sanford recalled in a National Park Service oral-history interview in 1991. “We never heard of or seen anything like a two-man submarine before.” The sailors described it as cylindrical, about 80 feet long, with an oval-shaped conning tower.
The Ward’s captain, who had been in his bunk, appeared on the bridge wearing a life vest over his pajamas and bathrobe. “All ahead flank, stand by to ram,” he ordered, according to Mr. Sanford. “Commence firing.”
Mr. Sanford and the other crewmen on the bow gun fired at a range of about 100 yards. He watched the round leave the barrel and barely miss the conning tower. “I thought if it had another coat of paint on the sub, it might have activated the graze fuze,” which detonates when a shell suddenly slows down, Mr. Sanford said in the park service interview. “That’s how close I think we came.”